Tag Archives: death

Grandma’s Hairspray

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I don’t really use hairspray anymore, and it’s not because I don’t like it or need it. I choose to curl my hair and have it fall flat, frizzing pitifully in the Texas humidity.

The reason? I don’t want to throw away my hairspray–my grandma’s hairspray.

After her funeral two years ago, my family was handing out random items from cabinets–“Which teapot do you want? Which porcelain figurine?” I know they had good intentions–they wanted us all to have a memory or two to take home. But I just felt so weird about it all. I wanted to go home, away from my family and away from all the teapots. My mom gently said something like, “Alysha, there must be something you want to remember Grandma. C’mon, just pick something.”

I asked if I could have her hairspray. We were standing by the restroom, I looked and saw it, remembered mine had run out recently. It seemed like a great idea at the time. Mom laughed and handed it to me.

That was two years ago…and the silver bottle is still sitting next to my sink. I use it sometimes, but never too much, and I always get anxiety afterwards that I used too much, that I’m going to run out soon.

Because I mean…what will I do? Throw it out?! I’ll feel like I’m throwing out my grandma! A freakin’ hairspray bottle has become a weird version of an urn.

The truth is, every time I see it, smell it, feel it in my hair–I remember her wispy white curls and salmon dress pants and funny little British laugh. I miss her cooking and I miss her calling me “my dear” and I miss sitting in her kitchen on those awful wooden chairs telling her about my day.

I can’t throw away the hairspray, because it’ll be like Uncle Chuck’s salsa all over again. I kept the most giant jar of Uncle Chuck’s homemade salsa in my fridge for SO long after he passed away. I couldn’t even open it–the seal seemed to be intensely fused on. I finally made myself throw it away and have regretted it ever since. I miss seeing it every time I open my fridge.

It makes you wonder what weird items people would take from your place if they had the chance–to remember you by. Does anyone care at all about my favorite yellow cup? My wacky paintings, dusty books, giant seashell? Will anyone want my grandma’s teapot that’s on my stove or her porcelain figurine that’s on my writing desk?

This Is Where I Leave You: Not even close to a review

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Have you seen the trailer for This Is Where I Leave You? It looks phenomenal; I can’t wait to see it. I also just found out that it’s a BOOK. So now I of course want to read it first. I think the reason I can’t stop watching the trailer is because of the symmetry I feel it has to my life right now. A monarch of the family passes away and brings the family together. They are a crazy family to say the least. Spending that much time together is like torture. Yup. And then of course there’s the line that we can all relate to: “Is it the whole world or is it just this family?”

I hope it’s the whole world.

I’ve lost two people this year—my amazing Uncle Chuck and my lovely grandmother. It’s strange to me that there are so many different reactions to death. Funerals seem to bring out the best and worst in some people. And I guess that makes sense when you think about it.

I find myself NEEDING to write about it—not to vent, not to talk shit, not to complain or whine or bitch or moan or whatever—but this is MY way. This is what I do. I think that’s clear to my friends and family by now, that I write (about everything). If they haven’t figured that out, I’m not sure what more I can do…I’ve already published a freakin’ novel.

In This Is Where I Leave You, in true movie fashion, the family comes together even though they’re insanely different and maybe-kinda-sorta hate each other at times. Tina Fey’s character puts it perfectly when she says, “You guys are idiots, but you’re MY idiots.”

I wish I always felt like all the people in my life (friends, family, coworkers, students, ex-students…) were MY idiots. But ya’ know what? It’s OK to just think they’re just idiots sometimes (or most of the time…or all of the time).

When a student decides to say, “Chinga tu madre!” to another student riiiight in front of you, it’s OK. When your cousin chooses to go to a sorority function instead of Grandma’s memorial, it’s OK. When people freak out about what’s was left for them in the will even though everyone knows there was barely anything more than a teacup collection…it’s OK. When a student decides it’s acceptable to bite your arm…it’s definitely fucking OK.

[See how I sandwiched that? Teachers: you can always use funny student stories to buffer real-talk.]

I wish I hadn’t started bawling for no apparent reason last night at Aunt Gigi’s as we were celebrating her birthday. But I was looking around that house and suddenly, all I could see was the absence of my uncle, flipping tortillas and laughing. I wish no one was that interested in money. I wish everyone cared about celebrating peoples’ lives more than they care about celebrating their possessions.

I wish everyone could be calm and collected and poised and respectful about death, but that’s like saying I wish everyone was the same, which would be terrible. I guess, mainly, I just wish that love was visible—in everything, in everyone, even in the darkest, most selfish times. If it was only peeking out, barely noticeable, I don’t think I’d feel as rage-cage.

But just like it’s OK to feel like some people are idiots and not MY idiots, I guess it’s OK for love to hide. Maybe it’s one of those, “How would we really know what it was if it wasn’t gone sometimes?” things. Whatever.

All I know is funerals are the worst, people can also be the worst, everything is the worst sometimes. But love is drinking tea with your grandma and flipping tortillas with your uncle and when those people are gone, love is hugging your idiots who know exactly what you mean.

Selfless

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I guess it’s time I write about Uncle Chuck. I mean, I kind of already wrote about him here. But I mean write about his death, which is weird since I think I’m still in the denial phase…

I couldn’t decide what I wanted to write…all my other blogs (try to) have a common theme of sorts. There are just so many thoughts, so many emotions, so much roller coaster bullshit that I could write about this past week.

I want to write about my Aunt Gigi and how she’s dealing with this and how we now know how much Uncle Chuck actually took care of her. She didn’t even know where the keys to the house were. He did everything for her—drove her everywhere, paid all the bills, cooked every meal…

I want to write about how you don’t have to be blood related to be family. He was the closest thing I’ve ever had to a real grandfather—he’s actually the only man who’s been there for me every day since I was born. He was a father when I didn’t have one, a grandfather when I didn’t have one, always an uncle, always a friend, and always trying to fatten me up with carne guisada.

I want to write about my first real funeral experience. How I don’t want to put my family through a viewing, a rosary, a second viewing, a terribly long and mournful ceremony, and on and on… Catholics just can’t get enough of the whole drawn-out sadness, huh? No thank you. Give everyone a tiny bit of my ashes to toss on their next cool vacation and throw a BBQ where everyone has to wear yellow and share a hilarious story about me. Something like that. No priest who had never even heard of me and no hail Marys.

I want to write about seeing all the familiar faces of my childhood. All the Mendez’s whom I’ve grown up without, who kinda look like me, who are kinda crazy like me. I want to write about how strange it was for my dad to be there, the best shoulder to cry on, amongst all of his wife’s ex-husband’s familia. I want to write about how weird it was to realize that he was closer to Uncle Chuck than my real father was, who didn’t even show up. And how Mom, not even part of Aunt Gigi’s family any more at all, is like her daughter—the one Aunt Gigi asks for help going to the bathroom.

But mostly, I want to write about how amazing Uncle Chuck was. I’ve never met anyone more selfless. I don’t think I ever witnessed him doing something solely for himself. He always talked about wanting to play guitar and travel the world, but he never did it. He bought a guitar, but spent all his time putting in hours at the courthouse or tending to the yard or cooking Mexican food better than any gringo I’ve ever met.

When I was little, if I wanted French fries from McDonald’s, a bean and cheese from Taco Cabana, and a soda from the gas station, he would go to all three without question. If I wanted to stop and see the cows, he would pull over and “Moooooo!” with me for as long as I wanted. And best of all, he would let me do his hair!

He was that guy who was constantly offering and giving—do you want a beer? Do you need advice? Do you need gas money? Do you want to take these 10 pounds of leftover rice and beans so you don’t have to cook for weeks? No Uncle Chuck, no, no, no thank you!

I will miss saying no to all those things, Charles Gordon. I will miss your wrinkly kisses on my cheek, the familiar sight of you in a plain white t-shirt (the only thing he ever wore), and your dirty jokes that were always unexpected and always hilarious. I will miss Aunt Gigi yelling your name and watching you ignore her in the most creative ways. I will miss your big, droopy ears and how easy you were to shop for (house slippers, every year). I will miss sometimes saying yes to the rice and beans and I will miss you, Uncle Chuck, so, so, so incredibly much.

Expanding Hearts

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I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the not-so-feel-good topic of loss and how to deal with it. I guess a lot of it was sparked by the recent death of Joanna, a girl I met in Europe on a Contiki. We weren’t super close or anything—but seeing her picture splashed on news stories really got under my skin and I’ve been thinking of her pretty smile every day since they found her body.

It’s natural to think about death—it’s normal to feel anxious about your loved ones growing older, more fragile. I feel like losing someone you love is the one thing in life you can never prepare yourself for—but you wish you could or you might even feel like you already are prepared, ready, accepting of fate.

My best friend recently lost her grandmother, who was living with her. I walk by that empty room in her house now and my heart feels tight, uncomfortable. I think about them surrounding her with love, reading her poetry. Jo’s sobs still ring in my ears—I had never heard pain like that. Yet, I am envious of her. I told her this recently—that I feel like she’s stronger now, more prepared than I am, for the next inevitable passing. It’s stupid, I know. It’s not like one family death will make the next hurt any less.

Then I think about my aunts—they’ve both lost their husbands and they’ve both dealt with the loss in their own way.

My Uncle Rick was a racecar driver. I don’t remember him, but I’ve seen so many pictures and watched a couple home videos and I’ve heard about a million stories—that’s enough to know he lit up a room. He had that charm, that smile, that laugh—everyone adored him. Whenever I think about him, for some reason I get this ‘80s Tom Cruise image in my head—this cool cat who could make a rock fall in love with him. After a racing accident, he was in a coma for years before he passed away. My Aunt Debbie focused on her kids and then focused on their kids…I didn’t think she’d ever truly open back up to love. Her story made me fearful—I felt like she had this perfect marriage that ended too soon and once you have that kind of happiness, you just never get it again. I thought maybe people aren’t allowed to have that twice. But now she has John and I see this light in her eyes that I’ve never seen before. It reminds me of the pictures, the home videos, the stories—it reminds me of Uncle Rick. I don’t think she finally “filled a void,” as the saying goes, but I think she finally made room for that same kind of big love she once had.

Our hearts are bigger than we think. I feel like we’re constantly trying to cram love into a box—focusing on taking things out instead of expanding.

My Uncle Mac drove an 18-wheeler. He was in a terrible accident and became paralyzed—a quadriplegic. My Aunt Kathleen had been taking care of him for over 20 years before he passed away in 2010. I’ll never forget how positive he always was—if he was unhappy lying in that bed all day every day, he never let on, to us at least.

My Aunt Kathleen has similarly amazed me with her outlook on life. She is one of the craziest, most hilarious women I’ve ever met (she prefers the term “eccentric”). I asked her this past weekend if she’s dated at all. Her response was a big ol’ grin, a sip of her giant Long Island, and: “Not yet, there aren’t any men in Kountze! Unless I want a crazy old man who has a wife. My neighbor won’t stop calling—he wants phone sex! Can you believe that?! Anyway, I’m gonna move to Gruene and find me a man with at least a six-figure salary. That’s just the way that it is. That’s what I’m lookin’ for. I know what I want!”

Priceless. And the best part? The next day, she actually bought a piece of land in Gruene. She loved Uncle Mac deeply and always will, but she’s figured out that whole expanding-heart thing. It’s so great—and I know that both my uncles are smiling down, relieved that their loves are open to loving again.

I wish I could’ve taken a lesson from all of this sooner. People should view every hardship in this way. I always thought the key to getting over ex-boyfriends was filling the brokenness with someone new. But other people don’t fix you—you have to fix yourself. Your wounds might always be wounds, your holes may stay deep and barren—but your heart isn’t a box with a limit. There’s room for whatever, whoever, and however much. I’m still working on realizing this (isn’t it funny how you can realize something, but never really be done realizing it?). But I know that feeling worried and unprepared for loss is normal—all I can do is keep trying to expand my heart. Current effort: making room for each and every one of my new students. Even the one that guessed my age today: 49.

For Dad, On Mother’s Day

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Dad has officially kicked Stupid Cancer in the ass and I wanted to share my ecstatic relief with the world in more than just a Facebook status. I hope this blog helps you understand why losing him to Stupid Cancer was not an option. I love you Dad!

My dad taught me that if you put salt on your drink napkin at restaurants, then your glass won’t stick.

He’s a pretty handy guy like that. He can fix anything, even if it’s not broken. You know that movie quote about a guy who’s lost in the woods only needing a pocket knife and a toothpick to be able to build a shopping mall? Yeah, that’s my dad. He probably wouldn’t even need the toothpick.

He used to be really good at carrying heavy things, but his back is now just as bad as mine and his strong arms that have moved me in and out of shitty apartments have been replaced by whoever is trying to date me (or vice versa) at the moment.

He’s taught me how to fish. More importantly, he taught me how to get away with reading a magazine in the boat while he fishes.

He’s taught me a lot of “reals”. Like what a real gentleman should be—and do and say and not do and not say. What a REAL handshake and hug should feel like.

He taught me how to appreciate good food. Notably—freshly caught fish v. frozen, medium steak v. well done, and homemade barbeque sauce and honey mustard v. packaged. He taught me how to recognize the taste of venison when it’s snuck into food, looking and acting like beef. He taught me how to cut meat properly.

My dad taught me that it can always be worse—you could be shot at or bitten by a rattlesnake or have to frantically jump off a hotel balcony half-naked. He taught me to “get a helmet” and “poop in one hand, wish in the other and see which one fills up faster”. He taught me sarcasm.

He taught me what kind of boys to bring home and what kind of boys to avoid. By watching the way he treats my mom, he’s taught me what kind of husband I want. By experiencing the way he treats me, he’s taught me what kind of father I want for my children.

He has TRIED to teach me about politics, cars, the military, and history. I have retained about 1% of that information. Sorry Dad.

He taught me not to put up with anybody’s shit.

He taught me that anyone can be a father, but it takes someone really special to be a dad.

He’s taught me so much over the years and I know that he’ll continue to teach me for many, many more years.

Thanks for being so strong Daddy. You couldn’t have given Mom a better Mother’s Day gift this year!

The C Word

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Cancer is that thing you hear about- on TV, movies, or from friends about friends of friends. You never think it’ll be you or YOUR parents. And if it is, you imagine it’ll just be a scare or a simple, no-brainer, caught it early type deal.

My dad is my stepdad, as most people know. Although once, at a wedding, a man said, “This your daughter? I can tell, you have the same smile.” Me and dad looked at each other and grinned. If he meant we both had lips and teeth, well sure. But dad is a 60-something Santa look-alike with baby blue eyes and a Texan tattoo.

Anyway, I obviously love the guy with all my heart and up until now, I kind of thought he was invincible. My parents, lovely tight-lipped haoles, thought it’d be best to wait until I was home for Christmas to tell me that Dad has prostate cancer.

Big mistake. 1. I’d just spent 12 hours on a plane. 2. Of course I’m going to be pissed that the whole damn family knows except me. 3. Dad made me think he was giving me a present.

Let me explain #3. Mom’s usually the one who buys me gifts, unless it has to do with technology or cars in any way. This is rare, since those things are usually expensive, and this is when Dad takes over. Whenever this happens, he’s like a small child. He cannot wait to give me the gift and he pesters Mom until she says, “Ok, fine!” This is exactly how he was acting all day. I was like, hell yeah, I’m about to get a new laptop or a kindle! What an extreme opposite to a gift.

At that point, I was bawling, yelling, and getting away with cussing all at the same time. Total psychotic episode. That is the only time in my life that my parents haven’t severely scolded me for saying “fuck.”

I was pissed that they hadn’t told me, but I was even more pissed that Dad hadn’t taken action yet. He has some great points and explanations about “his plan,” but I don’t really care. I’d rather the doctors chop off the entire lower half of his body if it meant he’d be alive longer. I don’t care that it’s his body and I don’t care about the nasty side effects. However, I apparently don’t get an opinion on my dad’s genitals. Go figure.

I realized that for them to sit me down and tell me this—and for Mom to be crying while they did so—this was obviously a lot more serious than Dad was letting on. They’ve both had cancer scares before. Dad even had to have a kidney removed. But those times either a) really weren’t that big of a deal, b) they were much better liars back then, or c) I was a naïve idiot. I’m going to go with a mix of all three.

Dad will probably not like that I wrote all this but… the way I see it, I need to cover all bases. I don’t pray. But I admit that I very well could be wrong about this God character. I’m probably not, but just in case, I need as many people out there who DO pray to pray.

If you don’t know my dad very well and you’d like to make your prayer more personable, here are some solid facts you’re welcome to use:

  1. Dad’s middle name is LeRoy. He despises it and using it to his face WILL get you a death glare.
  2. Dad loves Obama, vegetarian foods, marijuana, and Diet Coke. He wants to outlaw guns and move somewhere more his style, like L.A. He wishes he could spend more time at the beach, shopping, or volunteering in Africa with Hilary Clinton.
  3. He is the utter opposite of #2.
  4. Dad likes to seem tough, and he definitely can be. But at heart, he’s a complete teddy bear who cried when I wrote him a really cheesy poem once.
  5. Fishing, poker, and television crime shows. Obsessed.
  6. He has never treated me like a “stepdaughter”—I don’t really know what that even means really. All I know is that I can’t tell the difference between our relationship and the relationship all my friends have with their “blood fathers.” He definitely stepped up to the plate and filled a void in my life and I love him so much more for that.

All jokes aside, I’m scared shitless. I tried to make this blog lighthearted so that it wouldn’t be a completely depressing read. I love hiding my emotions behind humor! But I’ve never lost anyone in my life. I was too young to even remember when my great-grandparents died, or my Uncle Rick. I am definitely not ready to lose my dad.

SO BACK OFF, CANCER, YOU STUPID BITCH!

I’m sure he’ll be fine, as the doctor has apparently assured. Prostate cancer has a very high survival rate and Dad is more badass than most men. He’s been shot, he’s jumped out of helicopters to save lives, etc. etc. But I’d still appreciate the prayer thing. Or, ya’ know, whatever you think will help. Voodoo doll personifying cancer, spells, curses, meditation, light a candle… I don’t know very much about religions, this is clear. Or you can just give him a hug next time you see him! Or a Facebook hug, those are nice too.

Love you Milton LEROY Thompson Junior AKA Dad!:)

The Yellow of You

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Short story I wrote in college: the assignment was to write about our death from someone else’s perspective. Morbid, right? But I always tend to enjoy any excuse to be emo and dramatic:)

The Yellow of You

“I love you more than all the eyelashes in the world.” You were so random sometimes.

“You’re never out of new ones, are you?” I brushed your bangs away from your eyes, but they soon fell back into place.

“You should try it, it’s very satisfying.”

“Alright. I love you more than all the freckles in the world.” I’m not very original, you were the poet. But hey, I thought it was cute.

“Weak.”

“Oh c’mon, everyone knows there’s more freckles than eyelashes in the world.”

“Are you kidding me? There are millions of people who don’t have one single freckle.”

“Yeah but then there are other people covered in them.”

“But it doesn’t matter because everyone has eyelashes.”

“That is false. Besides, have you ever counted your eyelashes? Not that many.”

“Have you ever counted your freckles? You have way more eyelashes.”

You were probably right, but I thought I was fighting a fair fight. “Are you forgetting about the ones on my butt?”

“No, those are my favorite.”

You smiled that smile where the creases of your mouth formed fake dimples. I loved those. You always said your body tried so hard to produce something you had always wanted. I told you one day that they weren’t that special, that in Chemistry, we learned they were actually a dominant trait. You didn’t care. You got pissed, ranting about how you would have a boring recessive gene.

I probably would’ve come up with something better than freckles if I would have known. I would’ve done a lot of things. But we finally rolled out of bed and said goodbye. I only pecked your lips, thinking how late I already was for work. But you understood. You didn’t like it when I messed up your vanilla lip gloss anyway.

What college student still wears vanilla lip gloss? You’d punch me and say “This college student.”

You waved out of your window as I sped down the highway and the next time I’d see you wouldn’t be in fake dimples and sticky kisses. I only ever saw fragments of your favorite yellow dress caught in some of the glass and metal.

They said I didn’t need to identify the body, that they used your teeth or something. How CSI right? All they really mean is that the body’s too messed up and they don’t want me going psycho. As if seeing you would’ve made it harder than it already was. As if I already didn’t have a picture in my head of what you looked like. I had seen blood, it was hard to miss. So what would’ve been the difference? But I guess I’m just saying that. I probably would have gone psycho. Trying to piece you back together or something. I mean, for God’s sake, I didn’t even believe them when they said you were dead. I wanted to play fucking doctor, grab some Toys R US stethoscope from my younger brother and find your heartbeat.

I kept on thinking about time and how it all matters. The cliché, what if I would have been with her for five more minutes? Then you would’ve been on the highway five minutes later, and then there’d be no wreck. Or you’d be stuck in traffic because of a wreck killing somebody else’s girlfriend. But seriously, what if I would’ve kissed you goodbye one more time? A long, 30-second kiss. Taking off all of your Bath and Body Works “Cake Icing.” Would that have made a difference?

Someone had taken your shoes and placed them neatly by a police car.

“Young man, I think it’s time you head home,” some officer gripped my shoulder. I could feel his wedding band through my shirt and I wanted so badly to be standing in front of you in a white dress instead of you covered up with a white sheet.

I was hugging the yellow flats I bought you that year I worked at Journey’s for minimum wage. You told me that was the stupidest job ever for a “white male college junior.” You told me to go apply at a bank, and I finally did.

“Did you hear me, son?”

I glanced at the 52 card pickup of “Monty the Mazda.” You always had to name your cars. And then I headed home to curl up in bed, surrounded by everything you had ever left at my apartment.

Eventually, I took the shoes off my desk and put them in the box in my closet with all of our pictures. You forgot to take the sticker off the left one, I did that for you. It was dirty and faded, $24.99 Size 7. Later, I took the sticker out of the trash and smoothed it back on the bottom of the heel. One of the corners refused to stick, curling up, no matter how many times I laid it flat. I kissed it over and over for hours, tears soaking into every inch of yellow.